Sunday, January 31, 2010

25. 12/28/09 The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima (426 pages)

Not entirely sure how I feel about this offspring of the adolescent fantasy movement about a teenage boy who finds out he was born to be a magical warrior (of course. weren't they all?) It was well written, but I never got emotionally attached to the characters- and its one of those that seems a little too pat at the end. Really? Overthrowing a centuries old social system steeped in magic and power was that easy? And no one of interest died? Really? Hm....I have, however, decided to check out the sequel and give it a fair chance.

24. 12/26/09 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (326 pages)

Karli and I went to see Jonathan Safran Foer speak at Bowdoin last year. He was great- funny and articulate. After that, I really felt like I should read his books. I think I like this one better than Everything is Illuminated, but it was very depressing. Oskar's father was killed on 9/11, and he spends the rest of the book on a massive scavenger hunt across New York to solve a mystery about him that may or may not be real. Oskar made me incredibly sad, but he was also very endearing, and it was easier to read about the fallout from 9/11 from a child's perspective. Basically, I really liked the book, but it gave me heavy boots.

23. 12/23/09 The Complete History of Jack the Ripper by Philip Sugden (471 pages)

I think this really all began before I was writing my reviews in a blog, so I probably need to explain it. I get fixated on things, subjects, ideas. When that happens, I need to get more information. Wikipedia works really well in the short term, but lots of times, that just isn't enough. Also, it isn't always true. Sadie calls them Research Projects, and is usually a good sport about hearing Important Facts About Leprosy (or Polygamy or Sherlock Holmes or 30s get the idea). So last summer I read From Hell by Alan Moore, and it was really excellent, and scared the bejeesus out of me. Those scary panels with no words where men go in and out of Mary Kelly's room in the dark...ugh. There's an image I can't shake. Anyway, after the fictionalized version that blames Dr. William Gull, a prince, Queen Victoria, and the freemasons, I needed to get solid information on that most notorious of serial killers, Jack the Ripper (and an old episode of Histories Mysteries just wasn't cutting it). It turned out that when Anna took criminology in college they studied him, so she had some books. I started with Patricia Cornwall's Portrait of a Killer, in all honesty because it looked like an easier, quicker read.
When that book had come out, I really bought into her theory. It seemed well researched, and like it fit in all of the details. The more I read of the book, however, the less I believed it. Lets just say that Ms. Cornwall didn't come off as scholarly or throrough and leave it at that. So then Anna gave me The Complete History of Jack the Ripper, which she also had from criminiology class. It took me a while to get through this one- it was a lot bigger, with a lot more footnotes and a lot smaller print.
Thorough and disturbing, I had to keep taking breaks between chapters and read it only during daylight hours to prevent being totally freaked out when I went to bed at night. It was exhaustively research, with lots of primary source material to back up Sugden's findings. I believe him a lot more than I do Patricia Cornwall, but the worst part of the whole thing was that after 471 pages the author still couldn't honestly reach a conclusion. That makes me respect him as an author and historian, but it makes me NUTS. I want to know who did it! The fact that Sugden points the finger at the man he considers to be the least unlikely suspect is honest and emotionally unsatisfying for me. On the upside, I think this exhaustive study has take care of my JTR fixation for the moment, although you know I'll go on the creepy tour the next time I get to London.

22. 12/20/09 The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (288 pages)

This book was a frustrating downer, but that doens't mean that I didn't enjoy it. It can only be frustrating if I'm really engaged, so I guess it turns out that its really a plus. I can see why social work students are always required to read it, and I think Fadiman does a great job of equally presenting both sides of the story. I've known about this book for years, and sold dozens of copies, but I never really picked up a good idea of what it was about- a little Hmong girl who's parents don't speak English and who lives in California is diagnosed with a severe seizure disorder, and over the years as her familiy and the medical community attempt to treat her, their lack of understanding of one another's cultures lead to difficulties and tragedy. I can see both sides of this story, and I don't think there was a "right" side, but I have to say that I agree with the western medicine a little more than Hmong culture. At times it seems like Fadiman is implying that the two are equal alternatives, and I don't think there are numbers to back that up. Its a very sad story, particularly the bits that seem like they were so very preventable, but its also a really good lesson. (Although I know there are those of you out there who strongly resist Lessons in your entertainment. You know who you are.)

21. 12/16/09 A Vision of Light by Judith Merkle Riley (435 pages)

I read this one based on a Diana Gabaldon recommendation. It was good, but not awesome. The feminism was realistic for the period (the middle ages), which I like, but Margaret was ridiculously naive. For someone who was sold to a rich gay merchant who beat and sodomized her and left her for dead by the roadside, lived through the Plague, became a midwife and toured with a troupe of actors she was easily shocked and kind of slow. That being said, her ending up with (spoiler?) Brother Gregory (AND HOW!) was excellent and pulled off an eleventh hour save, making me want to read the rest of the trilogy.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

20. 12/10/09 Paper Towns by John Green (305 pages)

I bought this book a long time ago based on my love of An Abundance of Katherines. Using the end of high school as the basis for the story is kind of trite, and the wild, fascinating girl that Quentin loves is pretty much John Green's thing, but I liked it a lot anyway. Its a good mystery with a satisfyingly unsatisfying ending. At the very end of his senior year, Quentin sets off on a wild goose chase to find the girl he loves, and in the process gets to know a lot of people he had never spoken to before and Learns Lessons About Himself and Life. I liked the way the changing relationships (and Walt Whitman) illustrated the idea that people are rarely anything like we imagine them to be. Quentin was a tormented nerd who it turned out people thought was attractive, cool etc...It was unlikely, but not impossible, and a refreshing change. It felt a lot like growing up and realizing that your teenage years weren't really what you thought they were at the time. It was good, but I still like An Abundance of Katherines the best, although I may be biased.

19. 12/9/09 Ransom My Heart by Meg Cabot (396 pages)

I love The Princess Diaries. At the end of the series, Princess Mia writes a romance novel for her senior project called Ransom My Heart....and then they really published it. My sister ( the first of my acquaintance to love the Princess Diaries) bought it and passed it along. Hilarious. Particularly if you've read a lot of romance novels, which I have. It read like a real romance novel, and was better written than lots of them. The anachronistic feminism in the plot made a lot more sense when you run with the idea that a politically active teenager wrote it. I liked it, although not as much as the Princess Diaries themselves. Its not really fair to compare them however, as Ransom My Heart doesn't have Michael Moscovitz OR Lars. Should I summarize the plot? A medieval miller's daughter who is master of the bow and arrow kidnaps the lord of the manor and holds him for ransom to get money to help her sister run her brewing business. Definitely written by a high school student. Or someone who has a real gift for imitating one.

18. 12/7/09 The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart (440 pages)

I read the ARC of the first book in this series before it came out, and it was a decent read of the Harry Potter school (although it really had more in common with a Series of Unfortunate Events); there was a happy ending and the kids had personalities. The second didn't blow my mind, it was too much like the first one, and I'm not sure there was any character development at all. The four children struck off on their own and used their wits and ingenuity to thwart the bad guy and rescue the adults. Ta da! The series is ok, but I prefer Artemis Fowl or Percy Jackson.